Wizard World Richmond 2016: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

"I love beard!"
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Wizard World Richmond was this past weekend and I’ve got some things to say about it.  You’ll remember that I have limited experience when it comes to conventions.  Now that I’ve been to a nationally recognized one, I’ve learned a few things that I wasn’t quite aware of when making my plans for what I was going to see and do.  Then again, I’m pretty fickle so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that most of my plans were lost to the wind.  Overall, I had a fairly positive experience.  I’ve got good and bad things to say.  In order to make the negative more palatable, I’ll do it in the “compliment sandwich” form, where the ‘bread’ is the compliment and the meat, well, it’s less than enticing.  Perhaps it’s salami that’s been sitting on the counter for a little too long. It’s probably still okay to eat, but the health inspector wouldn’t stand for that.

I spent Friday wandering around the floor, checking out the booths and all of the artwork.  I took some time to check out the vehicles on display including but not limited to The General Lee, The Batmobile, Iron Man’s motorcycle, and Captain America’s motorcycle.  You could pose with all of them, for a fee.  Hey, everyone’s gotta make a buck.  The interesting thing I found is that for the motorcycles, you even had to pay if you stood outside of the display and took a shitty picture with your cell phone.  I’m not going to lie - that pissed me off a bit.  But since I see no point in walking around with a crappy picture of movie memorabilia on my cell phone, it didn’t really affect my experience. 

I was getting ready to head to a panel, and the main show stage caught my eye.  It was magic show put on by the some of the performers from Masters of Illusion on The CW.  I sat down to enjoy some up-close slight of hand, as there were hardly any people there.  I’ve always liked magic shows. Three things sat with me when this was over.  1) One magician made a bondage comment during the show. He was kind of cute and had nice eyes. Too bad he asked the men to tie him up and such.  I could have done that.  2) Nichelle Nichols (I think it was her) sat across the aisle from me.  I don’t like Star Trek but still thought that was cool.  3) Their prop guy probably got fired, as the sheet for the show finale was tangled and no one got to see Jonathan Pendragon pop out of the box he was locked in.  I mean he just climbed out and apologized - it’s not like he is still stuck inside. 

I missed the panel I was going to attend because I have the ADD, so I headed to a virtual reality demo.  I got a 1:1 demo by a NewEgg rep of the HTC Vive system.  I put on the headset, grabbed both of the remotes in my hand, and proceeded through the demo, by shooting the back of my shield and killing myself with the ricocheting bullets.  VR isn’t what I thought it was, but it was fun.  I’m not sure if it’s just my poor depth perception (please don’t ask me to parallel park a car) or if I just lack something, but I didn’t think anything was actually going to hit me.  I shot some space ships and laughed though.  Isn’t that what gaming is supposed to be about?  I talked a bit to him after, asking about the cost ($799) and other requirements (a decent computer and space).  He said there was a large selection of games available and while it was a bit of an investment, it was a good seller. 

Saturday started with the Q&A panel with Gene Simmons.  I was excited.  He came out with his cocky attitude and got ready to field questions from fans.  I don’t recall what the first question was, but I do recall how his answer made me feel - irritated.  He mentioned the small stage he was on and the lack of people in the crowd, then suggested if you wanted a great experience, you should go to a “real convention.”  His tone was condescending and it left a sour taste in my mouth.  About five minutes later, he extolled the evils of drugs and alcohol, and I was ready for my first beer and actually walked away from this rock icon’s session. I can hear better stories from my Dad who is not a rock star, but is far more entertaining.

About the small crowd.  This was problem #1 for Wizard World.  All of the ads clearly stated that the show floor opened at 10:00 AM, but you could get in earlier if you purchased the VIP pass.  The stage Simmons was on was in the middle of the show floor.  His talk started at 9:30 AM.  I’m certain that many people didn’t bother coming for fear that they’d get there early for a good seat, only to be denied entry and have to sit in the lobby drinking a $3.50 cup of shitty coffee. 

I wandered around the main floor a bit, enjoying everyone in their cosplay outfits.  There are some incredibly creative people in the Richmond area.  Kudos to everyone who dressed up. 

Then, it was time for Jewel Staite.  She was set up on the same stage in the middle of the showroom.  I got my seat.  I was ready.  Out walks this this teeny tiny, gorgeous woman who obviously loves her fans.  But there was WW problem #2. She gets on the stage and comments that this is a “weird set-up” and asked, “Can you guys even hear me near the back?”  Right on cue, “Shut Up and Dance With Me” blared at us from the little stage right across the aisle.  Why did they put one of their largest draws in the middle of the show room floor?  Sure there was a microphone, but when you’re competing with all of the people wandering around and enjoying themselves, plus the extremely loud music from another stage just across the way, anyone not sitting in the first three to four rows isn’t going to hear what she’s got to say.  I struggled to hear her for about 15 minutes, and left that area, extremely frustrated.  What I got from his experience:  she was wearing some incredibly awesome shoes. This could have been worse, I suppose.  They could have been playing some Nickelback on that other stage. 

I headed out to the city for some lunch because if I’m going to pay $5.50 for a beer, it wasn’t going to be another Sam Adams.  So, if you remember my original plan, you know I’m 0 for 3 on enjoying panels at this point. But I did get to see Tommy Flanagan playing with a baby, so the entire morning was not lost. 

I decided I’d make the most of the afternoon.  There were still several panels I wanted to go to and I hadn’t done a single thing on my to-do list.  I missed the start of a panel I was interested in, tried to see if I could get close enough to Lochte to piss him off, but no.  His area was packed.

Needing to make this experience something I’d remember, I strolled up to this booth and somehow agreed to pay $30 to get a ticket for a selfie with one person I came here to see - Ryan Hurst.  In contrast, when I went to meet Michael Rooker, I think I paid $40, got an autographed picture, shared his coffee, and had a ton of pics taken by my friend.  So I’m unsure why in this particular instance, you’d have to pay for an autograph but not get the selfie.  Or get the selfie and he doesn’t sign anything. Or pay twice as much for both. The bottom line here:  if you don’t have expendable income, you have to make tough choices at Wizard World.  $60 for the selfie and autograph or $30 for the selfie and feeding your kid for week.  The selfie is the cheapest thing on the menu.  In reality, it’s also the best.  I can’t really salivate over a signature.     

I made my way back to the dreaded show stage just as John Schneider and Catherine Bach were about to go on.  It was here that I knocked off the first item on my list, “Get a picture of Bo & Daisy Duke together.”  The seats were full, so I stood off to the side.  I was really excited because I could actually hear them, but about three minutes in, a WW worker told me I couldn’t stand on the side.  I looked around and the only seat was in the back row.  I could already hear the Imagine Dragons song playing at the other booth across the way, and knew how this ends - not hearing my childhood idols talk.  As I was walking away, they were talking about all of the remakes going on these days and “do you think they’ll ever remake the Dukes of Hazzard or would it offend someone in today’s politically correct world?”  I stopped.  I waited.  This was it.  You’re in the Capital of the Confederacy.  “Ma’am, you can’t stand here.” There are people walking around wearing Confederate Flag garb.  Answer the question, Bo Duke! “You need to find a seat or move on.” For the love of everything that was Hazzard County, answer it!  Catherine Bach spoke, “Who really cares what they think? It was a TV show,” or something similar.  Disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to hear any more, I grabbed an overpriced beer and headed over to meet my beloved Opie. 

I gave the woman my ticket and said, “when you take the pic, if there’s any possible way to get Tommy Flanagan in the background since he’s the next table over, that’d be cool. If not, I’ll always have Opie.”  She laughed, we talked for a bit and then it was me looking at Ryan Hurst.  Suddenly, it hit me.  I had a chance to knock off one of the list items I didn’t think I would get to. 

So after a short discussion about how I wasn’t going to set my beer down, I said, “This will sound weird, but can I touch your beard?”  and he said, “Sure.”  So I did and I’m pretty sure I said something dumb like, “I love beard.” Now, he’s 6’4” and I’m 5’4” and until you’re standing next to your crush who is an entire foot taller than you, you don’t realize how tall 6’4” truly is.  At some point I told him how much I missed Sons of Anarchy and he called me "sweetheart," which was well worth the $30 I paid and I hadn’t even gotten the pic taken yet.  So the cute chick taking the picture said something about it being time, he does the star thing for the fan with putting his arm around me, I put mine around him, and I accidentally touched his ass and *click*.  I have the goofiest smile on my face in that picture and I don’t even care.  I love the picture, I loved my three minutes with him, and I never put down my beer.  Side note:  No Tommy Flanagan in the background.  That’s cool though.  I’m not greedy.

Next, it was time for the Richmond Beard League mustache & beard showdown. “I love beard,” so I was there for this.  The best part was the cosplaying Space Marine who was also a real marine and incredibly hot.  He was one of the judges, but I’d vote on him as the winner on everything that happened at that booth, even if he didn’t have a flowing beard. 

And just like that, it was time for the SoA panel.  This one was in a separate room so you could hear what they were saying.  First things first: Tommy Flanagan is one of the funniest people I’ve ever heard talk and I listen to myself all of the time.  I’m pretty sure that everything he said elicited laughter from the small crowd.  Also, he’s pretty great at sitting still, so if you’re feebly holding up your cell phone to try to snap a picture and it’s not auto focusing, it’s like he has a sixth sense and waits to move until he knows you got your picture. 

These two talking about SoA really made me so happy.  They told some funny stories, waited through the colossal waste of time that was the dude dressed as Mario droning on about how he was a history major and something about TV dinners while we all waited for Hurst or Flanagan to speak again. These two really enjoyed each other’s company and talking together.  I thought I’d get to check off Flanagan saying “Jax” in this panel.  He referred to Tig, Happy, Bobby, Venus, and Opie, but never Jax, just Charlie.  Here’s a rundown of the highpoints:

Flanagan would like a dinner party with Einstein, John Belushi, and Sean Connery, but Ghandi and “Mother T” would also be good guests.  Kim Coates, apparently, has great calves that were described as “The Eighth Wonder of the World”.  Hurst said he didn’t know how to ride a motorcycle when signing up for SoA.  And, most shocking to me, Opie’s iconic line, “I got this” was a throw-away line.  For me, this saved Wizard World.  This is the experience I wish I could have had throughout the weekend, but having it for 45 minutes was enough to make me happy. Not wanting to ruin this feeling of perfection I was holding on to, I decided to leave after this. I already knew it wasn’t going to get any better than Hurst and Flanagan having a sit down with their fans.

I ditched going on Sunday, because the NFL season has begun and my beloved Packers played at 1:00pm.  I’ve been waiting a year to see Jordy Nelson play again, and not even James Marsters was a big enough draw to lure me back out there. I wound up being 2 for 5 on my to-do list, which is about what I expected.  

All-in-all, this wasn’t a bad experience, even if I did mismanage my time and not see most of the panels I originally planned on.  I think I was so frustrated by the set-up that I lost interest in sitting and listening to anything. While I was initially mad that they didn’t advertise Hurst & Flanagan on the radio, it paid off in shorter lines and a smaller, more intimate Q&A panel with them.  Obviously, if you’re on a tight budget at all, this is going to be difficult to fully enjoy. You can see a lot of things, but without the Benjamins, you might be disappointed.

Lasting impressions:

  • John Schneider is still pretty attractive.
  • Catherine Bach is still pretty.
  • Jewel Staite is beautiful.
  • Gene Simmons is a douche.
  • I’d date that Space Marine.
  • Tommy Flanagan is hilarious, plays with babies, and is really sexy.
  • Ryan Hurst is and always will be one of my top-five celebrity crushes, has a beautiful beard, and would always be welcome in my house to reach the shit I store in that cupboard above the refrigerator so that I don’t have to stand on my tippie toes on top of a damn chair. 
  • Schedules are for suckers. Sometimes, you just have to enjoy what life throws at you.  And sometimes, you have to pay $5.50 for a can of beer.

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